Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Time for Action

I find it interesting that I detest terms like "culturally responsive" but want desperately to find ways to bring the Latino population (which is the majority) into positions of influence and leadership. We need to create an inviting atmosphere in which our Latino students feel a part of our school culture.
Yet I can't help but wonder what that really looks like. In an English classroom, I can incorporate Latino authors and Latino protagonists, but I am not well-versed in the texts which are considered great. I am dedicated to a college prep curriculum, which inevitably means a Euro-centric focus at some point. How do we balance skill development and content knowledge?
How do I help get my Latino students past the belief that student council is not a "white" activity? And specifically, how do I empower the women to step out and take such roles when so many defer to the men?
I'm ready for action, but I'm tired of the cliches. I'm tired of being told to be "culturally responsive" and that our school is "not a friendly" environment for our Latino students. I know there are plenty of us ready to move beyond our current status as a failing school, but we need our students to partner with us. We've been told that it would help if more of our faculty looked like them, but while I tan well, I don't tan that well.
I'm ready. It's time.


At 6:45 PM , Blogger Jude said...

One of our Latina students just became student body president. She's planning to become a pediatrician. We've discussed what makes her different from other Latina students. Why do some achieve and others drop out? I'm going to ask her your question when I see her in the fall and see if she has any insights. Meanwhile, college prep doesn't have to exclude Spanish-speaking authors. The first novelist was Cervantes; Jorge Luis Borges is accessible even in translation; then there are the Nobel prize winning authors. I asked my Latino students what kind of music they liked to listen to, and that was amazingly illuminating. I was introduced to Juanes and Nortena, and learned more that I could use a basis for communication. We are dealing with students who are culturally in nowhere land--identifying with the cultures of countries they've never visited and regarding *us* as racist.

When I reprimanded a boy one day for something, he called me racist, and I responded, "No soy racista! Yo conozco mas de Mexico que tu!" The boys with him cracked up, but it's true in many respects--I'm not only egalitarian, I know Mexico in many ways that this boy, who's never been there, doesn't. I used my knowledge of the culture to use a comeback that earned me some respect. I suppose it's tricky.

At 9:16 AM , Anonymous Joe Bellacero said...

I see a strong connection between your feelings towards those who preach to you about being “culturally responsive” or how your school is “not a friendly place to Latinos,” and the feelings of Latinos/as towards school.
If you ask yourself, “why do I hate those terms?” I believe your answers will be the exact same ones your Latin heritage student would give if they were willing and able to express themselves clearly.
When you are told that the students do poorly because you don’t look like them, you feel devalued and insulted, not to mention somewhat helpless—after all you just “don’t tan that well.” When students of a different culture are told that to prepare them for college success they must lighten their cultural skin they, too, feel devalued, insulted and somewhat helpless.
Your belief that there must be a decision made between Coleridge and Neruda, or between Beckett and Achebe is a problem. What “culturally responsive” really means is that we must make it as clear as possible that what kids bring to school from their lives is exactly what they should bring, exactly what we hoped they would bring, exactly what we value. And then we must show them that once we help them explore that knowledge thoroughly and maturely, there are no cultural doors closed to them.
This is not a program change, it is an attitudinal change.
In an earlier post you spoke about completing six years as a teacher (congratulations) and that many believe that teachers don’t make much progress after that. Such was surely not true in my case. My sixth year self was in another solar system from my first year self, but my thirtieth year self was in another universe. Most of that change came in learning that none of the kids are “them”—not the Latinos, special education, tough boys, lazy ones, nerds, geeks, jocks, queens or any other labeled groups. I learned that they are all “us.” Drop the word Latino from your thinking and focus on exalting and building on what your students know, even if you have to try to discover what that is because it’s different from what you knew at that age.
P.S. I love what Jude said.

At 3:01 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Joe, thanks for stopping by--it's been awhile.
As usual, your thoughts provoke me to evaluate my practice.
I agree with dropping the term Latino, Black, poor, rich,or whatever and focusing on the "us". In part, it is why I have worked diligently to put together school-wide community builders this year. I wonder if it is possible to do so when the stark facts tell us that our Latino student feel disaffected--seen today in our academic assembly in which plenty of Latino students won awards, but many of my Latino students expressed their frustration with all the white kids who won awards.
We are constantly being reminded of our differences, by the State or by the professional developers who come to tell us how to be "culturally responsive."
More than anything else, I want us to become a community, a family. If we can do that, maybe we can begin to see how a school should operate.
But it is tough. There are some deeply embeded beliefs, in both students and teachers. In fact one student told me today that "Hispanic students can't do better than the Whites in grades. We're Hispanic and we don't care about school like White kids."
It makes me wonder when that thought became a way of thinking for that student, and others like her.
I guess I want to know how to show my Latino students that being Latino is about academic success, and that to achieve that they don't have to "lighten" their cultural skin as you said.

At 1:03 PM , Anonymous Joe Bellacero said...

Yes, it has been a while. Springs seem to get amazingly busy for me.
When I read what your student said about Hispanic students not caring about school like White kids, it reminded me of the times I have heard nearly identical statements from my students of one group or another over the years. After a while I stopped letting them get away with it; confronting them with their own successes ("You did that vocabulary homework as well as anyone could do it. You expressed your opinion in that discussion as clearly as it could be done. Caring about learning is a decision you make not your culture.").
You are right that there are deeply embedded beliefs that misdirect the efforts and attitudes of both teachers and students. I did my best to give the lie to those beliefs by learning how to provoke and direct my students to do good work and then to display that work for all to see--class anthologies, bulletin boards, the yearbook, the literary magazine, read alouds, poetry contests, and sharing with fellow teachers. Except for with two very close friends, I stopped complaining about my frustrations and persistently spoke about student successes. Perhaps it wasn't much, but if nothing else, it certainly changed MY thinking.

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